Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The 55th Anniversary of Batman '66: A Personal Recollection

Fifty-five years ago today, on January 12 1966, the television show Batman debuted. The show was inspired by Batman, the comic book superhero who at that point had been published for 27 years. William Dozier intended Batman to be adventure for kids, but comedy for adults. The show's combination of action for children and humour for adults is perhaps the reason it became an over-night sensation. Batman would become a phenomenon in its first few months, perhaps the biggest television-related fad of all time.

I have already written about Batman extensively on this blog, including a two-part post on its history (you can read it here). In celebration of its 55th anniversary, then, I have decided to discuss the impact the show had on me. On January 12 1966 I was only around two months shy of my third birthday. For that reason I certainly don't remember anything about the premiere of Batman, nor do I remember watching the show's first season episodes when they first aired. My earliest memories of watching Batman came from when I was around four years old, by which time the show was nearly coming to an end. That having been said, it is one of the earliest shows I can remember watching. It was also one of my favourites, along with Underdog and The Monkees.

While I remember very little of the original network run of Batman, I do remember the huge amount of merchandise for the show. I remember my Uncle J.E. had a Montgomery Ward catalogue that contained a whole two pages of nothing but Batman toys. I also remember seeing Batman goods in stores. And there was certainly a large number of Batman merchandise to be had in the Sixties, everything from toy versions of the Batmobile to Batman's utility belt. It seems likely to me that Batman and Robin were the first superheroes of which I was aware, even before Superman.

Of course, Batman was cancelled in 1968, its last original episode airing on March 14 1968 (four days after my fifth birthday). This is not to say the show was not still popular with the younger set. I remember in kindergarten and first grade, the favourite show of the boys in my class was generally either going to be Batman or Daniel Boone. I remember many of my classmates had Batman lunchboxes and many of them dressed as Batman for Halloween. Given its continued popularity with children around the United States, not to mention many adults probably still enjoyed it as well, it should come as no surprise that Batman would have a very successful run as a syndicated rerun. Indeed, it is still being shown today on local channels, cable channels, and streaming services.

It may well be impossible for me to entirely assess the impact that Batman had on me. Batman became my favourite superhero, even after exposure to other superheroes (Superman, Aquaman, Spider-Man, et. al) in Saturday morning cartoons. In fact, the first comic book I ever read was a Batman comic book and I remember what it was. It was Batman no. 234 (August 1971), which featured the story "Twice an Evil." "Twice an Evil" is significant as it marks the first appearance of the villain Two-Face since 1954. Of course, the Batman that appeared in "Twice an Evil" was very different from the Batman of the 1966 TV show. "Twice an Evil" was part of the run of writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Addams on the character Batman. Messrs. O'Neil and Addams returned Batman to being a grim avenger who fought crime at night, quite a contrast to the camp of the Sixties. If anything, I loved this version of Batman even more than the Batman of the 1966 TV series.

Of course, my love of Batman led me to a love of comic books in general. Within a few years I had hundreds of comic books and I decided that I wanted to write them when I grew up. I even wrote and illustrated my own comic books with my own original characters as a kid. Eventually I would begin writing prose short stories and a bit later non-fiction. If I became a writer, it is then in a large part because of Batman. Had I not been exposed to the 1966 series Batman, it is possible that my life might have unfolded very differently.

Here I have to say my experience is not at all isolated. I know several people my age or even younger who saw Batman as children and remain huge fans of the show to this day. I know among DC Comics fans the show remains popular, even among those who prefer the current Dark Knight to the Caped Crusader of the TV show. One of the many things my dearest Vanessa Marquez and I had in common was a love of the TV show Batman. Of course, having been born on December 21 1968, Vanessa had to discover the show in reruns.

I have remained a fan of the 1966 Batman television show my entire life. Even now I sometimes watch episodes of the show on the Roku Channel. In fact, the very first movie I watched this year was the 1966 movie spun off from the TV show, now often called Batman: The Movie. Batman opened me up to a whole new world, not just comic books, but the world of writing as well. I then owe the TV show more than I could possibly repay. It is for that reason that the debut of Batman on January 12 1966 is an important date for me, even though I can't remember it.

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